Inhuman Swill : November 2010

Floppy puppy

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Between five and six this morning, I had a pretty awful dream. I was somehow in a big grungy rusty white panel van with my family, who I guess were visiting town. Except it wasn't my family as it exists now. It was my parents circa the mid-seventies and my four youngest brothers and sisters circa the mid-eighties. My three other siblings were not around, but for some reason I was being forced to go to church with the family—a stake conference, to be precise. I didn't want to go, but there didn't seem to be a way out, and as we parked in gray dusk light near the church I realized angrily that I was going to miss meeting my friend Kevin that evening for beer (which is actually on my schedule for tonight).

The church was a strange one inside, with a chapel that was much wider than it was long, and with the congregation seated on rising auditorium-style benches looking down at the pulpit. The only door in or out was in the corner behind and to the left of the pulpit, so if I tried to leave everyone would see. As I tried to work up my courage to leave, I realized that I wasn't wearing Sunday clothes like the rest of the family. I had on white shorts and a black T-shirt with something printed on it. (Probably something obscene, I don't know.) Feeling hideously exposed, I turned to my parents and loudly announced that I was leaving and they couldn't stop me.

Outside the church, I found Ella on the porch leaning against the wall beside the door. Apparently she'd been in the van and someone had left it open. Anger surged inside me. Ella was very groggy and didn't even lick me as I picked her up and cradled her in my arms. She flopped bonelessly, like a rag doll, and somehow I knew she'd been hit by a car that pulverized her skeleton. I kicked open the door to the church and strode into the chapel bearing my dog like an accusation. "You did this to her!" I screamed.

That's when I woke up.

Full entry

Mixed signals

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So Laura and I met up after work down in Wicker Park, so we could each buy some jeans at the Levi's Store. Sadly, we left the store jeanless. (Well, I did still have on the ones I wore in.) I should have remembered this, but the Levi's Store only stocks sizes suitable for pipe-cleaner people, because of course there is no such thing as a tubby hipster.

The scales were somewhat balanced, though, by:

  • the man who crossed the street while Laura was waiting for me in front of the store to tell her how strikingly beautiful she was and how lucky her husband was.
  • the hostess at Piece Brewery and Pizzeria who carded us both.
  • the waitress who told me how cool my glasses were.
  • the drunk who apologetically addressed me as "young man" after not bumping into me (though he seemed convinced he had).
So all in all, last night was a push. And there was pizza and beer.

Frey-ing fish in a barrel

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After reading last week's New York Magazine feature article "James Frey's Fiction Factory," I was tempted to post another jeremiad against the author who proves himself time and again the slimiest, most brazenly unapologetic charlatan to disgrace our industry in the past decade.

Fortunately, doing so would be redundant, since I can just send you to John Scalzi's two excellent posts analyzing Frey's latest hijinks:

  • The Man in the Frey Flannel Suit
  • An Open Letter to MFA Writing Programs (and Their Students)

    All I will add is that you should never sign a contract with a man who claims there's no difference between fact and fiction.

  • Infidel dog

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    Infidel dog
    This morning,
    with a high of seventy degrees in the forecast,
    amazing for a November in Chicago,
    I drove the dog to Warren Park.
    That's where we go for a special treat
    instead of our usual neighborhood walk,
    because the squirrel chasing is most excellent,
    and there are never any cops there to harass you,
    a scofflaw walking his dog off its leash.

    We like to run up the steps of the sledding hill,
    which a parks department sign actually proclaims "Sledding Hill,"
    and then charge down the slope,
    after which we make our way around the skirt of the hill
    where the squirrels rummage through the leaves
    like so many bargain hunters.
    We crunch crunch crunch across the orange carpet,
    and if we're lucky we spot a squirrel far enough out
    in the open that Ella can chase it full-bore
    back to its tree.
    She has never once caught one.
    Or at any rate never killed one.

    Next we like to follow the cinder jogging path
    all the way around the little nine-hole golf course embedded
    like an off-center yolk
    in the albumen of the park,
    and that's exactly what we did this morning.
    I walked in the leaves at the side of the path,
    trying to encourage Ella to do the same,
    but unless she has a rodent, lagomorph or marsupial in her sights
    she prefers to walk on pavement. Go figure.

    We were on the south side of the golf course,
    the tall chain-link fence meant to protect us from flying balls
    off to our left,
    when I saw two men coming our way along the path,
    youngish men—younger than I, at any rate—
    neatly bearded men dressed in long robes the color of wet sand.
    It was already warm enough out that I was regretting
    the heavy coat I wore over my hooded sweatshirt.
    I snapped my fingers imperiously,
    calling for Ella to return to my side,
    to leave the path and get out of the way
    of the two youngish men engaged in animated talk.

    Full entry

    Smoke

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    Smoke
    I make it my general practice
    not to drink and write.
    At least, I try not to drink
    when writing fiction,
    where the prose should be clear
    and lucid as water,
    even as it refracts the light.

    But poetry's a different matter.
    A little whisky never
    hurt a poem. Not much, anyway.
    Certainly not this
    glass of it, distilled from smoke
    that might have
    scribbled words like these in
    the air as it
    jittered away, leaving only this
    amber residue,
    not so transparent as it appears.

    Full entry

    Four, no, five buffoons

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    It's easy to see why Drafthouse Films (the new distribution arm of Austin's great Alamo Drafthouse theater chain) was able to snap up the rights to British TV vet Chris Morris's feature film debut, Four Lions. Probably no one else wanted to touch it. It's not a movie for everybody.

    I saw Four Lions last night at a preview screening at Piper's Alley, and I thought it was the funniest movie I'd seen since, well, The Hangover. Like any number of other comedies, it's the story of a buffoonish group of losers determined to succeed at something they clearly have no talent for. What makes Four Lions different is that the something is jihad. Will you like it? That depends on how much taste you have for laughing at suicide bombings. (Mild spoilers may lie ahead.)

    Omar and Waj are two would-be British-Pakistani mujahideen who get ejected from an Al Qaeda training camp for rank incompetence. Undeterred from their dreams of glorious martyrdom, they tell the rest of their goofy terror cell back home in England that they've been sent back to carry out an important mission. The antics of the group, the most volatile member of which is a loose-cannon white convert to Islam, as they bumble their way toward a series of suicide bombings are very funny stuff, laugh-out-loud stuff. But you can't help but feel a certain amount of discomfort laughing at this gang of sincere fools.

    Are we laughing at stereotyped Muslims? I don't think so. We're laughing at comedic types, certainly, but as embodied by characters who are actually more three-dimensional than you might expect in this sort of movie. Along with the uncomfortable laughs, we get a look inside the rage, the faith, the yearning for community, and the yearning for glory that prods a certain type of personality into taking up a violent cause. And the self-styled jihadis are hardly the only Muslims we meet. In the course of the film we encounter a wide range of Muslims, most of whom want nothing to do with violence, and a few of whom get caught up in it anyway, in different ways.

    Full entry

    Cribbing

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    Just received another instance of one of my favorite emails. It goes something like this:

    Hi! You've been such a help and inspiration, I'd like to send you a copy of my new self-published book. I'd really like to read some of your books too. Which one do you suggest I start with?

    Flattering, right? But you have to know how to read an email like this. Here's what it means:

    I know I'm imposing on you so I'll salve my conscience by pretending to want to read your stuff. Only I'm too lazy to do my homework, so I'll let you tell me what books you've written instead.

    Full entry

    Passing

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    It's getting harder these days
    to tell the crazy people from the sane,
    what with technology the way it is.

    It used to be that talking to yourself
    in public was a sure sign of instability,
    like wearing a sign that said,
    "Steer clear of me, I'm not quite right,
    I might be dangerous, if only to myself."

    But now we all do it, carry with us
    an invisible chorus of voices
    in a magic Bluetooth cloud, insistent, demanding
    voices clamoring for attention, screening out
    the real world around us, making us each
    more dangerous than twenty actual crazy people,
    a more present threat to public safety than
    any potential suicide bomber.
    Or at least more annoying.

    Thorazine does nothing at all to fix it.

    Full entry

    Cheap bitch

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    Don't call Ella cheap, but she did just get less expensive. Take an extra 30% off her 2011 calendar when you enter the coupon code EARLYBIRD305 at checkout! (Offer good through November 15, 2010.)

    Ella-Mental 2011 13-Month Calendar


    Though Laura and I have fallen down on the job for the past few years, we've finally gotten it together enough to publish a sequel to the immensely popular Ella-Vation 2006 and Ella-Tion 2007 calendars.

    Yes, our furry little 33-pound calendar girl is back in her biggest productino ever, with an extra month thrown in for free:

    Ella-Mental 2011 13-Month Calendar

    For a limited time, only $14.39! Order all you want. We'll print more.

    Full entry
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